The last time we heard from Sara Goldrick-Rab, her business cards read "professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison."
This time around, she has a different title.
The outspoken educator announced in March that she would leave the flagship UW school, for a position at Temple University in Philadelphia. Her decision came after the UW Board of Regents approved a new tenure policy – a large-scale change that Goldrick-Rab called “poisonous” to the system.
And just last month, Goldrick-Rab earned another new accolade. POLITICO magazine named her one of the top 50 thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016. Her contribution: “Sparking a national conversation about college affordability.”
That’s the subject of the professor’s latest book, Paying the Price.
Now halfway through her first semester at Temple, Goldrick-Rab returned to Milwaukee late last month to promote the book, as well as her transition from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania:
On making her move:
"I knew that I needed to go, but I wasn't entirely positive that going would lead me to a place where I would feel like I could be as effective. Because I have developed such wonderful relationships in Wisconsin, and it takes so long to do that...It has been really easy to build the relationships that I need. Temple is incredibly supportive...And the issues that are so central to my work, that are central here in Milwaukee, are also central in Philadelphia...I've been pretty darn happy."
On differences she sees between Wisconsin's and Pennsylvania's public college systems:
"In Pennsylvania, we have state institutions and state-related institutions, and it has to do with their origins. I'm at a 'state-related institution,' which means Temple was originally private..."
"Temple works extremely hard to ensure that the public can get into the school. For example, we don't require standardized test scores, something I worked really hard to try to convince UW-Madison to do. And partly as a result, there is an incredible array of people from all walks of life walking around Temple's campus. And by the way, they are capable of doing college-level work, and they are graduating. So it feels very 'public' to me. Frankly, we have far more students of color by droves than I ever had the opportunity to be with at Madison, and we also have far more socioeconomic diversity...And that's not just a function of being Philadelphia - it's also a function of choices."
On the status of Wisconsin's tenure debate:
"I think the tone changed...I actually am more concerned than ever that given what I do, absolutely still continue to believe is 'fake tenure' in the UW system, coupled with the lack of unionization at the University of Wisconsin campuses, people are very, very vulnerable. And I worry that if they're not sufficiently attentive to that, then it's going to catch them by surprise when it comes. And it will come, eventually."
On the central idea of 'Paying the Price':
"What I really tried to do in the book is explain what it means for the price [of college] to be too high, and what happens when the price is too high. Because what I argue, is that there's this new economics of college wherein the price is high, and the family finances are weak, and work doesn't pay. What this means, is that people are paying the price of being in college and not getting the college education they came for."
On the confusion over financial aid:
"We have an entire 'system' that's not much of a system at all, that contains a ton of counter-productive rules and regulations, that keep the aid professionals from being able to do their jobs serving students. And the people who have the least resources, for whom financial aid is supposed to work the best, they encounter...double bureaucracies."
"So many folks don't realize this has to be navigated. And then when they do figure it out, too many institutions say, 'sorry, not our job'...or they say, 'gosh I'd love to help, do you know that we have no money?' The quandary that's facing our public institutions, especially here in the city of Milwaukee, is both a combination of knowing what to do, and being trained and ready to do it, but also genuinely not having the resources to do the work."